In Kensington and Chelsea we have today announced that Council Tax will be frozen in 2010/11, just as it was in 2006/07 and in 2007/08.
For the current year we took a different approach, giving our taxpayers a £50 cash back dividend; that’s equivalent to a 3.5% cut for a Band D payer.
With this latest freeze we will have delivered a 6% real terms cut in Council Tax since 2006.
As a Council that has always been Conservative-led, we cannot find efficiencies from decades of Labour or Liberal Democrat waste. Instead we have to look hard at our services and find savings year after year whilst keeping our priorities in line with those of local people. That is how we have stripped out over £53 million since 2002/03 and kept our council tax the fourth lowest in the country.
High quality services
But being a low tax authority doesn’t mean low quality services. In Kensington and Chelsea local services are amongst the very best. A few examples:
With many children educated privately, those who attend our schools represent an unusually diverse intake. At secondary level we have a higher percentage of students who speak English as an additional language (49%) than Birmingham or Bradford. At our primary schools, 35% of children receive free schools meals – more than in Lambeth or Haringey.
Yet we are the only education authority in the country where over half of young people entitled to free school meals achieve five or more good GCSE passes including Maths and English. At the end of Key Stage 2 our results place us in the top handful of local authorities nationally, which, given the profile described above, is a remarkable achievement. Indeed, eight out of ten schools (84%) are ranked as outstanding or good by OFSTED. Staff and pupils deserve much of the credit but an active Council has played a strong part.
When a child wins a place in one of our secondary schools their eventual GCSE pass rate (Grades A*-C) will be 20% higher than the national average. And students seem to value their secondary education so much that they attend consistently. Our attendance figures for 2007 / 08 were the highest nationally. No wonder demand for a Royal Borough education is so high. To meet that demand we have sponsored and just opened a new secondary school in Chelsea – the first in 50 years – and have plans for another in North Kensington.
As well as new schools we want existing ones to make good progress. That’s why we are rebuilding Holland Park School. Once a byword for all the ills of the education system, Holland Park is today one of the best schools in London. We are backing the staff and pupils with a new school and some of the finest facilities in the state sector. But in true Conservative style we are not borrowing any money and will fund it from a private sector property development.
It’s not just in education that we excel. Our recycling is collected and the bins emptied at least twice a week. And even though we are the most densely developed borough in the country, we are nevertheless recycling nearly a third of household waste despite having few of the gardens and outdoor bin stores that make recycling easier in suburban areas.
Plus we are rated as the top performing council in London for all four categories of street cleanliness: litter, detritus, graffiti and fly-posting.
It’s this kind of performance that has given us some of the highest resident satisfaction ratings in the entire country. Eight out of ten residents think we are doing a good job (Annual Survey of Londoners 2009), and that means far more to us than being one of just three councils to achieve the Audit Commission’s highest possible ratings in all seven years of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment regime.
We provide high quality services at low cost to residents and we mean to stay that way. But it is plain that because of the ruination of the public finances by our present government, there will be less money for councils in the coming years.
Remembering past Labour governments, we knew this was inevitable some day and have planned accordingly. We have been paying off debt and building up reserves so that we can cushion the impact on taxpayers and their services. But we know that will not be enough and so we have developed what we call our “smartest council” programme.
Through more home and mobile working and redesigning office accommodation, we will have fewer buildings, releasing some for sale or rent and thereby reducing our overheads. We have a massive carbon reduction programme underway because that is the right thing to do but also because it will slash our fuel bills. Increasingly we are also sharing services with our splendid neighbours in Hammersmith and Fulham.
We are also shrinking our senior management costs by 15% by the end of next year. At the same time I have proposed that our 800 staff on performance related pay should accept a pay freeze for 2010 – as will councillors.
Parts of Britain really are broken. If we are to assist those long trapped at the bottom to help themselves then excellent, focused local services – education, social care, housing, physical activity, culture and the rest – will be vital whether provided or commissioned by councils or others.
If we are to avoid Galbraith’s “private wealth and public squalor” we will need a public realm we can all share and be proud off and with schemes like Kensington High Street and Exhibition Road we have led
the way. We believe in revitalised civic pride but will continue our policy of only embarking on projects when all the money is in place and preferably not borrowed.
In 2010 Conservative Home readers will no doubt be hoping and working for the election of a Conservative Government. The chronic mess the present incumbents will leave behind will not only be economic, but
social too. Neither will be solved by national government alone. The centralised state has neither worked nor met people’s reasonable needs or aspirations. The 16 Conservative-led London boroughs have found
collective savings of close to half a billion pounds since we last stood for election in 2006 whilst simultaneously improving priority services. By moving from national to local, an incoming Conservative government could not only make local people democratically accountable for locally delivered services but also achieve substantial savings resulting in public services in tune with people’s needs and what they